Saturday, December 22, 2007

Blue Christmas

Tonight at Hope UCC I took part in a Blue Christmas service, put together by the wonderful Sarah Frederiksen McCann, pastor at Hope, and me. We basically cribbed the service from the Diocese of Ottowa, Canada. You can see their liturgy here. If you go to this link and scroll down, you find a ritual for individuals, in case you were not able or chose not to attend the service for whatever reason. The attendance was modest, at best, but those who were there were grateful for the acknowledgement that Christmas can be a time of struggle for many. We think we will do it again. The culture is so relentlessly cheerful, the emphasis is all on children and joy and family and for those who are grieving or alone or unable to take part in the frenzy of giving by reason of unemployment or other issues, it is a painful time. These are the people whom the liturgy tries to recognize, acknowledging their reality and God's presence with them in that reality. It was not the best attended service we've ever held, but it was full of potential for next year. More advertizing, a little work on the liturgy which was not always as felicitous as it could have been, a little fine tuing of the music (the selections are from the hymnal of the Anglican Church of Canada (which I have never seen) and we were in a UCC church using two different hymnals whose verse numbers etc. were quite a bit different from our hymnal. Kim Jungermann, a member of St Mark's, served as our musician, since the regular musicians of both of our congregations were too occupied by Christmas Eve planning to add another thing to their calendars.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


While I was looking at the website of the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana in order to put the volunteer form into Deacon Burnell Esbenshade's article for Markings about a possible Mission Trip, I found another alternative gift-giving opportunity, Bundles of Hope. You can make a donation to the diocese of Louisiana for its work in helping people recover from Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. You can print out a certificate to give to the person in whose honor you are buying the bundle. There are several levels of gift available. The link for it is here.

I must say that I also like giving hand made gifts, if not made by me by others, so I seek out art and craft shows all year long. There is a delightful studio show at Nori Obata and Steb Prieto's studio on the overpass of Big Bend where you can buy porcelain, photos, crocheted objects, (by Nori's brother Gen) small rugs, hand made books, glassware blown right there in the studio and fabulous jewelry. Gen and Nori exhibited at our (now defunct) art fair Heart and Hands and Voices. Here is a link to Gen's blog. You can find the details of open studio as well as directions there. And while I am doing commercials, many of my nearest and dearest are getting chocolate products from Kakao, hand-made gourmet chocolates with the finest organic ingredients. My favorite is the Missouri Pecan Clusters with dark chocolate, followed closely by the dark chocolate coated caramels.

Maybe people will comment on this entry and say their favorite places to shop and/or causes to support for Christmas.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Golden Compass and Beyond

Having heard about the eagerness of Christian groups to condemn the upcoming movie The Golden Compass, I set out to read it. Actually, I listened to it, being hooked on Audible. And then I listened to The Subtle Knife and then I listened to the Amber Spyglass. The versions on I got from Audible are narrated by Pullman himself and an ensemble of actors voice the other parts, Lyra and Roger and Will and so on. It is the best audiobook series I've heard. Pullman is a wonderful imaginative writer and his parallel worlds, especially Lyra's world, are inventive and delightful. His use of imagery from the Christian tradition and esp. from Milton, his reframing of the Fall, (and, indeed, of the harrowing of hell), his invention of an alternative from of physics, referred to as "experimental theology," all are extremely clever. The books are not as funny as Harry Potter but much more subtle and sophisticated. Pullman's universe may be without a theistic concept of God but it is a very moral world. One of the things about the books is that it is not always clear to the main characters or to the readers where good and evil lie. Even though in Lyra's world, people's demons often seem to symbolize their inner state (a particularly unpleasant character who steals the alethiometer in the Subtle Knife, for example, has a snake demon), it is still hard to know whom to trust and what to do. And then there are people like Lyra's mother who seem to be transformed almost despite themselves by the power of love.
Even though it is shelved in the Fantasy/SciFi section of the bookstore, the Golden Compass and its sequels depict very real children caught in a very adult world. Each of the books ends with triumph tinged with grief and loss, much like life, without fairy tale endings.
I'm looking forward to the movie even though it always distresses me to see worlds that exist in my head transformed into pictures. A review said that the movie makes Mrs Coulter, whose hair is black in the books, into a bleached blond (Nicole Kidman) and that Pullman himself is so enthusiastic about the way that the film makers have translated his work that he said that it made him realize that Mrs Coulter's hair really was blond, not black as he had originally thought. I am not convinced. But I cannot imagine that such richly imagined world which invites those who enter it with Lyra to see their own world with new eyes could possibly be bad for anyone. The film, apparently, tones down the anti-organized religion themes. But in the books, esp. in the first one, when one reads about "the Authority" and "the magisterium" they represent a way of being church that no one could possibly defend or seriously believe was the church as we know it. Marcus Borg says that when his students tell him they don't believe in God, he asks them to tell him about the God they don't believe in. That God is cruel and capricious and all about judgement and not love or mercy and Borg says that he doesn't believe in that God either. The church and indeed the whole concept of organized religion Pullman casts as the enemy in this book is not the church I know nor the God I know. Indeed my experience of God is much closer to the rich description in book three of Mary Malone's mystical experiences of dust, her sense of being one with all that is, even if the way that I would frame or describe that experience is in theological terms.